The next two features in this series will focus on a couple of former superstars who have recently fallen from grace for different reasons. The first of this pair is Miami Marlins' "new" third baseman Hanley Ramirez. The reason for the quotes around the word new is that the signing of Jose Reyes has forced the move of Ramirez to third base. While yes, this is a move away from a premium position, it is a move to a position that really isn't that far off in value. Third basemen were not good at all in 2011, as evidenced by their slash line of:
.254 BA/ .314 OBP/ .391 SLG
Of course, that slash line means nothing without context, so let's compare it to where Hanley used to play (shortstop):
.258 BA/ .314 OBP/ .370 SLG
As you can probably see, the two positions were actually very similar in 2011. This, to me, is the first part of the reason that Hanley's move to 3rd base makes a lot of sense. The other reason this move makes a lot of sense is defense. While athletic and quick, Hanley was remarkably bad in his time in the field as a shortstop for the first six years of his career. He combined to lose 2.8 wins per year in dWAR and posted a total UZR of -44.1 during his time in the majors. These rather atrocious numbers are backed by his scouting report, which points out a lack of reaction time and terrible footwork, despite having good athleticism and a strong arm. Moving to third keeps up the importance of the arm strength, but minimizes the potential damage done by a lack of reaction time, which should allow Hanley to be a better player.
Due to the change in position and recuperation from injury, I am labeling Hanley Ramirez as a candidate to BUST in 2012 (PLOT TWIST).
Hanley Ramirez is a player that is really at a crossroads in his career. There are many reasons for this which include his recent regression, his injuries, his positional change, and his age. To get a better feel at where Hanley is and where he needs to be, we will take a look at all four and go from there:
1) Recent Regression
It's not often that you see a player light up the MLB stage prior to his prime years and then fall off, but this has definitely happened with Ramirez. A look back at his peripheral rates, raw skills, and end results suggests that he's trending in the wrong direction. First, let's look at his end results, which are the numbers that end up having a tangible impact on the results the team sees:
2009 (25 YO): .342 BA/ .410 OBP/ .543 SLG/ 148 OPS+ (27 SB/ 8 CS)/ 6.9 oWAR
2010 (26 YO): .300 BA/ .378 OBP/ .475 SLG/ 126 OPS+ (32 SB/ 10 CS)/ 4.5 oWAR
2011 (27 YO): .243 BA/ .333 OBP/ .379 SLG/ 95 OPS+ (20 SB/ 10 CS)/ 1.3 oWAR
The trends here seem rather obvious. He's doing everything worse every year. Worse batting average, worse OBP, significant drops in slugging, and even worse success on the base paths. Nothing is trending in the correct way, here. However, why is that? What is causing Hanley's rather rapid regression? Well, let's consider a few things. After looking at some rates:
2009 (25 YO): 9.4% BB/ 15.5% K/ .201 ISO/ .379 BABIP
2010 (26 YO): 10.3% BB/ 15.0% K/ .175 ISO/ .327 BABIP
2011 (27 YO): 11.4% BB/ 17.1% K/ .136 ISO/ .275 BABIP
From this, we get some good news and a couple of things that we need to look into a little bit deeper. The two good things are probably the two things that bring the most promise to a Hanley Ramirez rebound effort in 2012. Firstly, Hanley's walk rate has steadily increased each year (above his 9.8% average walk rate). Secondly, there aren't any glaring signs in his strikeout rate. Yes, he saw an increase in 2011, but it was not anything astronomical and could very well have simply been the cause of random variance. In fact, when other things are considered, Hanley's strikeout rate is really just an act of variance, as his frequency of swinging and missing at pitches has been on a steady decline (8.9 to 7.5 to 7.2). That is another positive sign towards Hanley's skills not being diminished. However, to gain any credibility, one must take the good with the bad, and the other two trends suggest that something may be fishy with Hanley's other skills. Hanley's power numbers have plummeted, and it can be explained when we look at some of his other trends:
2009: 0.93 GB/FB/ 19.8% LD/ 12.1% HR/FB
2010: 1.56 GB/FB/ 16.3% LD/ 14.2% HR/FB
2011: 1.53 GB/FB/ 15.9% LD/ 11.1% HR/FB
There are a number of ways to interpret the above trends. One thing is obvious, however, and that is that Hanley's power numbers are on the decline because his frequency of ground balls has skyrocketed relative to the number of fly balls that he gets. The HR/FB rate hasn't danced around much (especially relative to Hanley's 13.2% career average in that department), but it doesn't matter how good of a HR/FB ratio you have if you aren't hitting that many fly balls (seeing as you rarely get guys who are attributed with any kind of BIP other than a FB when they hit homers). However, the BABIP answer really isn't there. Yes, the decrease in LD% is a factor towards a downward trend, but an increase in ground ball rate relative to fly balls should help a fast guy like Hanley get on base more when the ball is put into play. So what we've seen so far is that there are a couple of alarming factors in Hanley's game, but nothing scary enough to say that he's done.
One thing is very important to remember when we consider this regression that Hanley has experienced: 2009 was a career year with a lot of alarming rates. Just to portray it, here are a bunch of numbers that Hanley experienced in 2009 relative to his averages:
.379 BABIP vs. .339 BABIP
0.93 GB/FB vs. 1.19 GB/FB
19.8% LD vs. 18.3% LD
2009 is simply not a good year to look back to, and it shouldn't be what anyone expects Hanley to do as an offensive player. His end results were close to what he did in 2008, but that just isn't what Hanley is any more. His power numbers saw their first real dip in 2009, when his ISO dropped 38 points. That number has been in a downward spiral since 2008. This is really an incredible feat, because as he's gotten closer to his prime, he's become a lot less of an offensive threat. Right now, there is evidence to suggest that Hanley Ramirez' career will stabilize, but not anything that suggests he's going to bounce back and be Hanley again.
Ramirez doesn't have a significant injury history, but he does have an injury that could hurt him even more as his career goes on. In 2010, Hanley Ramirez injured his left shoulder. In 2011, he made a diving effort against the Mets in early August that led to an aggravation of that injury. Now, the reason this injury is significant is because it his Hanley's front shoulder for batting. As Hanley brings the bat through the zone, having a strong front shoulder is essential to generating bat speed, keeping balance, and generating power. If this injury continues to bother Ramirez, he will continue to hit more balls on the ground, and he'll likely never see his power come back. What this means is that he'll have to rely on his increased walk rate and his decreased swing and miss rate in order to be an effective offensive player.
3) Positional Change
As seen above, the difference between shortstops and third basemen in baseball in 2011 was very little. A move from shortstop to third base in terms of offensive value is rather small, which will save Ramirez from losing a lot of value as he makes the transition to third. As mentioned before, the transition to third should, at worst, be a net wash. Even if Hanley's offensive value is slightly hurt by a move away from shortstop, his defensive skill set is much better suited for third base. He has a strong arm and he'll have good range for a third baseman. If he can work on his footwork and increase the accuracy in his throws, the move to third should be a success from a defensive standpoint.
4) His Age
Hanley Ramirez will be 28 years old by opening day in 2012. As referenced in multiple posts now by our bloggers, this is really where results have plateaued and a player is experiencing the best he'll ever be. However, Hanley's career path hasn't followed this at all. His overall skill set peaked between the ages of 24 and 25, and his recent shoulder injury has prevented him from continuing that peak. It may very well be that Hanley peaked early and is now someone we can expect to be on a consistent decline.
Real Life Value to the Marlins
With everything considered above, I should probably put the word bust into context. By "bust" in this article, I am saying that I don't expect Hanley to rebound back to what he was in 2010. I think he has seen the best of his days as a baseball player, so I put him under the word "bust" rather than try to find a different category to file him under. Now, since Hanley has not had consistent injury issues, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of playing time. Since he's coming off of surgery, I'm going to say that it's safe he'll be able to play 130 games and get 540 plate appearances. With the recent injury history, I'm going to take Hanley's end results with a grain of salt, especially with all of the rates I have already pointed out. With all of this said, here's what I expect Hanley to do in 2012:
540 PA/ .280 BA/ .360 OBP/ .440 SLG (110 OPS+)/ (25 SB/ 5 CS)/ 3.0 WAR (3.2 oWAR/ -0.2 dWAR)
Now you can probably see why I had to clarify what I meant by bust. 3.0 WAR is great for a player in MLB. However, compared to the 3 years where he averaged north of 7 wins and his other two seasons north of 4.5, it is a steep fall off. Ramirez will bust in the sense that he'll fail to return to superstar form and will be more of an above-average player than a star player.
This is where Hanley Ramirez is most likely to bust, and it's because of where he gets rated, not because of his overall ability. It used to be that Hanley Ramirez was a consistent member of the discussion for first overall pick in fantasy leagues, but that is no longer the case. Even going into 2011, people expected Hanley to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 campaign. However, with the shoulder injury, he did not accomplish that at all. His declining peripheral rates also made his 2010 disappointing, but since it was his last full season, I'll use it to show what he did from a fantasy perspective:
.300 BA/ 92 Runs/ 21 HR/ 76 RBI/ 32 SB
Those are really good numbers, but they happened prior to Hanley's shoulder surgery. As noted before, the power numbers are not going to get much better, and there's nothing to say that they won't continue to get worse as Ramirez' ISO continues to free fall. The move to third really puts Ramirez in an interesting group of guys at the position. Third base might have some of the most interesting fantasy players with guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Pablo Sandoval, and Aramis Ramirez really being relative unknowns as far as value is concerned. This makes third base arguably the most interesting position going into the 2012 fantasy season. This could mean that getting the most bang for your buck at third base could be a key factor in the success of a 2012 fantasy team. Knowing that, these are numbers I find realistic for Hanley for 2012:
.280 BA/ 87 Runs/ 20 HR/ 85 RBI/ 25 SB
These are really good numbers, and I nearly fully guarantee that Hanley is underrated by fantasy projections for 2012. However, things need to be put into context. As previously mentioned, third base is really a wild card position, so the pick is going to be as much about where you take the player as it is about how much he produces. There are a few third basemen who should produce in very, very similar territory for 2012. With Hanley, the biggest thing is going to be to participate in a few mock drafts to see where he's going. If he's falling a round or more behind a guy like Ryan Zimmerman, make sure to snatch him up. However, if he's going in the high 2nd round or late first round, avoid him, because there are likely to be values that are much better (and a lot safer) later in the draft.
When all is said and done, Hanley Ramirez won't be a bust in the typical sense of the word, but as noted before, he's not returning to his former superstar self. He's not worth a top pick in a fantasy draft, and he's moving to a position that should be a lot better in 2012 than it was in 2011, with a lot of the elite players rebounding from off years. However, Hanley is definitely an interesting case, because if he can get close to what he was in 2010, he's a valuable player to have if you take him in the right spot.